Despite hepatitis E infections, Hong Kong’s potential organ donors urged to come forward
Doctor looks to calm nerves after five transplant patients catch virus from same donor
A doctor on Wednesday urged Hong Kong residents not to be discouraged from donating organs, after five people got infected with a potentially lethal virus after receiving transplants from the same donor.
Dr Chau Ka-foon, honorary president of the Hong Kong Transplant Sports Association, which organises sports events for transplant patients, said the city could ill afford to lose the small number of donors it had.
“I hope people are not affected by the incident,” Chau said on Wednesday. “There’s nothing perfect in the world. More people will die if nobody donates organs.”
She was speaking after the five patients, who received organs from the same 29-year-old woman, were found to have been infected with hepatitis E. The organs were thought to have caused the infections.
Chau said that – despite the government promoting organ donation for years – donor numbers were low.
“This year is especially bad so far,” she said, noting there were only 33 kidney donations and 19 liver donations from January to June this year, according to the Hospital Authority. In all of 2017, there were 78 donated kidneys and 74 donated livers.
The number of people waiting for a kidney was more than 2,200 by June this year. The number waiting for a liver was 74.
Chau added that the dip could be seasonal and may not badly affect the whole-year figures.
She said there were two major reasons behind the low number of organ donations in Hong Kong. One was that the family of a deceased patient may not know of the person’s wish to donate organs, and therefore not donate. The other was that hospitals lack resources, including staff, to identify potential donors.
In the case of the recent hepatitis E infection, the donor’s family decided to donate five of her organs after she died on February 27. Professor Yuen Kwok-yung from the University of Hong Kong’s microbiology department thanked the family for the donation and said the four infected recipients who were treated with antiviral medication were in a stable condition.
The fifth recipient died before the incident came to light, though his death was thought to be unconnected to the infection.
The Hospital Authority announced on Tuesday it would convene a panel of microbiologists and experts on livers, organ transplants and infectious diseases, to discuss whether to start testing donated organs for hepatitis E.
The group would also explore whether infected organs would still be suitable for transplants, it said, and what treatment should follow in that case.
Yuen said the chances of a donor having hepatitis E were low – only one in 2,000 organ donors are diagnosed with it – and that a blood test alone may not help identify a carrier.